News / Americas

Colombia Congress Vote Almost Assures Santos Lead in Presidential Ballot

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
Reuters
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos heads into presidential elections for a second consecutive term with his lead all but certain -- even while seats for his ruling coalition were trimmed in a congressional vote that cemented his fiercest rival as the main opposition, results showed on Monday.

With most of Sunday's congressional vote counted, Santos' backers had won enough seats in the Senate and lower house to support ongoing peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels and provide a snapshot of national support for the center-right president.

One-time ally turned rival, former President Alvaro Uribe became the biggest opposition force in the legislature, winning 19 seats in the Senate for his Democratic Center party - including one for himself - against 21 for Santos' U Party. In the lower house, the U won 37 seats against Uribe's 12.

Despite losing clout from his coalition in congress, the result bolstered confidence among Santos' backers that he could win a second term in presidential elections on May 25.

“We can win in the first round,” said Sergio Diaz Granados, head of Santos' U Party. “Peace is what will help generate employment, improve security and advance the social reforms the country needs.”

Although right-wing Uribe garnered a large chunk of support in congress, it may be tough to transfer that backing to his presidential candidate, former finance minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

Zuluaga has struggled to gain momentum against Santos, picking up 10.8 percent of the vote in a recent Gallup poll against 34.7 percent for the president. A candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the ballot to avoid a runoff in June.

Still, Uribe's presence thins Santos' support for steering reforms through the legislature and may complicate the implementation of a peace deal with FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, if talks succeed.

With almost 99 percent of votes counted, 62-year-old Santos' center-right U Party emerged the single biggest party in both congressional houses.

But counting all the seats that make up his coalition - the Conservative, Liberal, Radical Change and U parties - Santos lost some clout.

Santos wants a second term to allow him time to complete negotiations with the FARC that could end a war that has killed more than 200,000 and transform Colombia's political makeup if the rebels' gain the political participation they seek.

Uribe, 61, is a bitter critic of the government who believes the FARC should instead be beaten militarily. His party likely will seek to obstruct legislation if a peace deal is reached that would enable FARC rebels to enter the political system without serving considerable jail time.

Santos called on Uribe to put aside the “hatred” and work in congress for good of the nation.

“There was a very important signal sent to the nation and the whole world, that grand majority of Colombians want peace,” Santos said late on Sunday after the results were revealed.

The secretive peace talks reached a partial accord late last year on the FARC's participation in politics, a highly controversial item on the five-point agenda. Any deal with the rebels would be put to the nation in a referendum, and then to congress to devise laws for its implementation.

Despite slow but encouraging progress at the negotiations in Cuba's capital Havana that began in late 2012, the decision to engage in peace talks with the guerrillas remains divisive and will be pivotal in voters' choice of president in May.

Uribe became the de facto opposition and Santos' fiercest critic shortly after backing him for office in 2010.

The two fell out when Santos mended ties with Venezuela's then-President Hugo Chavez, who had engaged in a diplomatic tussle with Uribe for years. The acrimony worsened when Santos announced peace talks with the FARC, seen as a terrorist group by the United Sates and the European Union.

“Compatriots, today the Democratic Center Party was born. It won't waver before terrorism,” Uribe said on his Twitter account.

Colombia, a recipient of hundreds of million of dollars in annual U.S. anti-narcotics aid, has fought the FARC, right-wing paramilitaries and a smaller rebel group, the ELN, since 1964. More than 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced.

Santos is expected to reveal soon that the ELN will also start peace talks with his government, which is likely to give a further boost to his chances of securing another term.

Santos will also need backing in congress to pass reforms that would help bolster Colombia's $350 billion economy, create new jobs and cut the poverty rate, which affects about half the nation's population of 47 million.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Video Washington Week: Focus on Cuba, North Korea

President Obama, lawmakers out of town for holidays but many remain transfixed with US-Cuba thaw, Sony Pictures hack
More

Health Minister Named as Haiti's New Interim Prime Minister

Announcement is part of effort to resolve a mounting political crisis over long-delayed elections
More

Kerry: US-Cuba Thaw Will Advance Interests for Both

Secretary of state says 11 million people of Cuba have waited far too long - more than half a century - to 'fulfill their democratic aspirations' and build closer ties with rest of world
More

Cuba's Famed Cigars Get a Foot in Door of US Market

Under new rules to be implemented soon, US will make it easier for some Americans to travel to Cuba and they will be able to return with $100 worth of alcohol, tobacco
More

Tourism, Farm Groups See Bigger Business With Cuba

'We are the closest major food producer that Cuba has,' an American Farm Bureau Federation spokesman notes
More

Castro Lauds US Outreach, Says Cuba to Remain Communist

In speech to lawmakers, Cuba's president says economic reforms will be accelerated, yet changes will be gradual
More